Since the accident 10 days ago I haven't been able to do a lot, so I figured I'd treat you all to a race report I wrote after my very first long distance race at Ironman Swizerland in 2008. As you'll be able to tell, I really had no idea what I was letting myself in for. Little did I know that this race would lead me to where I am now...
Written 14th July 2008
Background - I'm currently at university in the UK, balancing studying with training about 8-12 hours/week. This is my 2nd year in tris, I've competed in a few events, including 3 middle distance races. I stumbled across triathlon watching TV a couple of years ago. Flicking through the channels I saw 'Ironman Lanzarote', I set the video to record, and watched it later that day. I must have watched that video so many times. I've always had a passion for sport, and had been a bit of a gym bunny, but hadn't competed in any sports since I was 15. I immediately started swim/bike/run training, and so my journey began.
Last year, after competing in my first event I was hooked. I couldn't think about anything but tri, and in an act of naivity signed up for UK 70.3. After completing it, I couldn't get enough, and so signed up for Switzerland 2008. My training has been consistent, although I never planned workouts in advance. In the lead up to the race I did only a handful of long swims, one century ride, and one 35k run. Undertrained? Yeah, young and naive too.
My only real training plan that I stuck to was my taper - 3 weeks of progressively lowering volume. I think it had the desired effect, as I was finishing my workouts strong, and had plenty of energy left in the tank. I rested a LOT during these weeks, slept a lot, and was conscoius of not overexerting myself. Nutritionally speaking, I'm extremely dedicated, and paid extra attention to what I ate in this period. I left for Zurich on Thursday with my Dad, who along with the rest of the family has always supported me, and who without, I would not have been able to get as far as I have.
My ambitions before the race were simple - have fun. I didn't set myself time goals for any of the disciplines. I was determined to finish and knew that it would be a battle of will as much as a battle of strength. Keeping a positive outlook during the race was something I had always concentrated on.
In the days leading up to the event we went through the necessary pre-race necessities, and I was trying not to get too caught up in the atmosphere. We met my Grandparents on Thursday night, who had arrived a few days earlier, combining a short holiday with watching me race. It was nice to see them, and I was feeling really relaxed.
Sunday morning came around quickly, breakfast consisted of what I knew I could handle, 12 (yes 12) slices of white bread with jam, washed down with water. As always I took a Red Bull 1 hour before the start. The weather was miserable in the morning, and it looked as if it was set in for the day. After making sure my transition area was ready, I gave myself a few moments to relax and focus on the day ahead.
My weakest discipline, although one that I always enjoy. I positioned myself fairly centrally for the in water start, expecting it to be frantic at the beginning. The moments just before the gun went off were pretty amazing, treading water amongst so many athletes, knowing that I was about to start something that has dominated my mind for the last year. I knew that this would be a day I'd remember forever, whatever the outcome may have been, and wanted to enjoy every moment.
The start wasn't as bad as I thought, a few stray arms and legs, but nothing extraordinary. It was quite uneventful really, I was mindful of drafting, trying to hang on to people setting a pace I was comfortable with. Well, for the first 20mins or so this wasn't difficult, as I found that the field didn't filter out as much as I thought it would. Approaching the end of the first lap was great, coming under the bridge and seeing all the spectators braving the rain to cheer us on. At the end of lap 1, which was about 1.8k, we came up a ramp and ran across a little island, jumped back in the water and started lap 2. Quick check of the watch read 32:XX, which was better than I'd hoped for. The final 2k lap was much quiter, and on occasions I found myself alone. Still mindful of finding a draft, I found this guy wearing a blue wetsuit, and followed him for almost the entire lap. At no point during the swim did I leave my comfort zone, I was ready for a long day and didn't want to waste energy for little gain.
Swim time - 1:10:26
The rain was still coming down, and I took the time to dress appropriately. On went the arm warmers, the water/windproof sleveless top, and *sigh*...gloves. Wheeled the bike out and was looking forward to the ride ahead.
T1 time - 3:59
First 30k or so was flat, flat, flat, and I concentrated on maintaining my preferred cadence (90-95rpm) and getting some water in. My nutrition plan was simple, I had a highly concentrated bottle of infinit on the seat tube and a front aero bottle to be topped up with water at every opportunity. That and along with 1 gel/hour gave me ~350cals/hour. Lots of people passed me in the first hour or so, but I kept telling myself that it was still early and there was plenty of work yet to be done. I found the first hour of the ride the most dificult, mainly due to the weather making me feel quite cold. Going through the towns was great, with supporters still out and bands playing - I found it quite a boost. I knew I was getting in enough liquid as I peed on the fly twice in the first 2 hours! The first real climb of the day was 'The Beast' which although not that steep, seemed to go on for quite a while. From here on in there were some fast descents, which were made dificult with the wet conditions. My speed topped out at ~45mph, which for me was plenty fast enough. The last climb of the lap was 'Heartbreak Hill', which seemed to go by quite quickly. The support was great, with crowds lining the road and moving out the way at the last minute. Riding past transition at the end of the first lap I checked the watch again - 2:45:40
On the 2nd lap, I was really keen on making the flats count, and tried to push a bit harder. Things were going well and I thought that I could post a time similar to lap 1. The weather got a bit better at this stage, and time seemed to be flying by. My mind never seemed to wander, and I was determined to stay focussed and enjoy the bike. However, approaching The Beast for the second time, I realised that I had less in my legs than I'd hoped, and to be honest, I struggled most of the way up. My HRM was beeping, reminding me that I was above the max limit I'd set. This is where my HR peaked for the ride at 85% HRmax. I enjoyed the descents and welcomed the chance to get the HR back under control. For the last 30k I had my mind on the run, and again tried to maintain a high cadence. Heartbreak Hill was fantastic again, with even more spectators out, you couldn't help but smile on your way up. It was something I'd never experienced before, and a pretty special moment. The last few k's were flat back to transition, and I was excited about getting the trainers on and running. Lap 2 time - 3:01:14
Bike Time - 5:46:55
I'd put my trainers/socks in a sealed plastic bag, and was grateful for the dry socks after getting my feet out of the soaked bike shoes. I ditched the extra top, arm warmers and gloves and got ready to put the socks on. I looked under my big toe, and had a blister that looked ready to burst. Luckily, I was prepared for all possible situations, and *even bigger sigh*, took the time to put a plaster on. Preventative rather than reactive measures. Looking back, I think it was a good decision and one that I would not change. Socks and shoes on, and I was away.
T2 time - 4:08
4 loops of 10.5k lay ahead, and I tried to settle into an early rhythm. Jelly legs? Not today, I was feeling great and focussed on that well known phrase, 'slow is smooth, smooth is fast'. The aid stations were well stocked and were along the course fairly often. Again, my nutrition plan was simple, water and coke alternated at aid stations. Something that I'd practiced, and that I knew would sit well with me. I checked my watch at the 6k marker, and it read 30mins, faster than I intended to set out. I soon saw my Dad and Grandparents for the first time since the start, and was chuffed that they were still out there supporting me, despite the conditions. The first couple of laps went by really quickly, and I was loving it.
Lap 1 time - 52:15 Lap 2 time - 55:39
At the start of the 3rd lap I started to feel hungry, which I suppose is the risk going with liquid nutrition. I knew what I fancied, and it was salt. Without hesitation, I took a handful of crisps at an aid station, and prayed that this decision wouldn't come back to haunt me. They sure hit the spot, I felt a renewed energy boost and was raring to go. From this point on I was making up places, and I was glad for the couple of easy hours I'd spent on the bike. I stuck with alternating between water and coke, although wasn't drinking as much as I had on the first two laps. At about 25k I stopped for my 2nd pee on the run, immediately felt better and waddled on. I knew I was slowing slightly, but was determined to stay positive. My personal race crew were still out cheering, which helped me continue.
Lap 3 time - 59:13
At the beginning of the final lap I had what I can only describe as a 'eureka' moment. For the first time, I realised that I was living a dream, doing something that I had longed to do for over a year, pushing myself to my limits. I was truly happy, the Ironman experience was proving to be everything I'd hoped for and more. It was great not having any time goals, and I didn't feel under any pressure to go faster to reach any illusive time. I helped myself to some more crisps and coke, then started to count down the k's until the finish. I saw the 35k marker, and decided to 'kick' for home. It wasn't so much of a kick, but faster than I'd been going for the last hour or so. Coming down the finishing shoot was strange, I was feeling a huge range of emotions - happiness, sadness, relief, pride, pain, anything and everything. Lap 4 time - 56:55
Run time - 3:44:03
Total time - 10:49:33
Well, a day after and I'm back home, and enjoying the start of a 4 week break, hoping to return to training with renewed energy and freshness. My goals still havn't changed, I want to continue to have fun and I don't yet want to lose sight of that. Obviously I'm going to plan my year out more carefully and hope to continue to improve and learn from my experiences in the past 2 years. I can see why you guys keep coming back to Ironman, from my first experience it seems to have an irresistible draw to it. Would I ever put myself through one again? I'm signed up for Austria 2009...
Thanks for reading, Nick.